In my career as a photographer and photography editor thus far, I've been lucky enough to own, borrow, and/or evaluate tons of different lenses. Here's a short list of some of my favorites.
Mind you, this is a completely subjective list. We're not looking at SQFs, MTFs, or other test data. This is simply a list of some lenses I've used over the years that rank among my all-time favorites. I'm sure many will agree, and perhaps disagree, with my selections. And of course, feel free to post your faves in our comments field.
A quiver of Prime Pentax Pancakes
These three Pentax pancake primes, the Pentax SMCP-DA 21mm f/3.2 AL Wide Angle Auto Focus Limited Edition Lens, the Pentax SMCP-DA 40mm f/2.8 ED Digital Auto Focus Limited Edition and the Pentax SMCP-DA 70mm f/2.4 ED Digital Auto Focus Limited Edition Lens cover a nice bit of focal range. These lenses are sharp, crisp, and these three lenses combined are much more compact and lighter than your typical 24-70 f/2.8 lens. When travelling light is crucial, these Pentax Pancakes come in very handy. I've packed these lenses for trips in helicopters over Kauai, to the Caribbean, and Montreal in the past year or so.
Canon's lightweight long-range dayside wildlife and sports lens
Canon's 400 mm f/5.6L has a lot of reach, and doesn't weigh all that much. Yes, that f/5.6 aperture is a tiny bit slow, but this lens is sharp and focus is crisp for daylight sports and wildlife shooting. I picked one of these up used a long time ago–I think I'm the fourth owner of this particular lens, and it keeps making nice images for me, despite being well over a decade old, and chipped paint to show for it.
The first time I saw Sigma's 300-800 f/5.6 monster in a photo mag advertisement, I knew I wanted to shoot with this. This "in a class of its own" supertelephoto zoom is even more usable today than it was when it was first introduced, since much-improved high ISO performance in DSLRs at all pricepoints means that cranking the ISO up past 800 doesn't necessarily destroy image quality. For daytime sports and wildlife, it has a whole lot going for it, as we show in this video review. And for HDSLR video shooting, it is also amazingly cool. And it is available in the four thirds mount, making it an effective 600-1600mm f/5.6!
Nikon's ultrawide f/2.8 zoomer
I love cameras and lenses of all sorts, but there is something special about a great superwide and a fullframe camera. And the Nikon 14mm - 24mm f/2.8G ED-IF AF-S Wide-Angle Zoom-Nikkor Lens is flat-out a great superwide lens. The cover shot of the first edition of my book, Practical HDRI, High Dynamic Range Imaging for Photographers, was shot with this lens on a Nikon D3. Edge to edge it is sharp, it is fast-focusing, and distortion is minimal. This is probably my favorite rectilinear wide angle zoom lens ever.
I've been a fan of the Lensbaby feel pretty much since day one, and the Lensbaby Composer is by far the best 'baby of the bunch thus far. The optic swap system allows for the classic curved field style of shots, as well as new styles of Lensbaby shooting with the Soft Focus and Fisheye Lenses. No matter what else is packed in my bag for a shoot, there's almost always also a Lensbaby.
Canon's ultrawide swinger
I'm a big fan of both old-school and new-school tilt-shift effects and the ultrawide Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L is a great piece of glass for everything that tilt-shift optics have to offer. To make the most of it, pair it with a fullframe camera like the EOS 5D Mark II. Whether you're shooting still or video, this is a killer tilt-shift lens.
Olympus's hand-holdable image stabilized 1200mm f/5.6
The Olympus Zuiko 300mm f/2.8 E-ED Digital Telephoto Lens plus the EC-20 2x teleconverter combined with the 2x factor of the four thirds mount, on say, the Olympus E-3 adds up to an image-stabilized, hand-holdable effective 1200mm f/5.6 shooting experience. I've used this combo to shoot world-class tennis at the U.S. Open, and it is simply awesome to have this much reach and mobility for daytime sports.
My first white lens, the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L
I've had this lens for over ten years now, and it is still one of my all-time favorites, as I explain here.
The Zooming Pentax Fisheye
What's not to love about a lens that goes from full-frame fisheye to mildly distorted ultrawide in a small package like the Pentax SMCP-DA 10mm - 17mm f/3.5-4.5 (IF) Auto Focus Fisheye Zoom Lens? The cover of the 2nd edition of my book, Practical HDRI, High Dynamic Range Imaging using Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Other Tools, was shot with this lens, and it is one my favorite lens for HDRI photography in general. Nikon and Canon shooters can get in on the fisheye fun with the virtually identical Tokina 10-17 version!
The Olympus micro four thirds 17mm pancake
The very first pictures of my daughter (who is 4 weeks old today!) were made with the Olympus M. Zuiko Digital 17mm f/2.8 Lens and an Olympus E-P1. I wanted high-quality images from a small camera in challenging light and this fast-aperture, just-wide-of-normal prime pancake helped capture this amazing moment. I wanted a prime lens so I (or, as it turns out, the hospital staff who ended up shooting many of the photos) wouldn't be tempted to mess with zooming and be saddled with a slower aperture, and instead, focus on the moments unfolding around us.
What are your favorite lenses? Tell your story below!